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Justice relies on service of regular citizens

FARMINGTON – Jurors in St. Francois County were shown appreciation this week for giving up time for what is considered a civic duty.

“Juror Appreciation week was actually May 2-6,” St. Francois County Circuit Clerk Sandra Wells said. “We celebrated it this week because we didn’t have any jurors coming in last week.”

A panel of about 60 people were called in for the trial held for Bryan Dickerson who was charged with second-degree murder, stemming from the death of Frederick “Buddy” Jones. Dickerson was found guilty of voluntary manslaughter. Of those potential jurors, 12 jurors and one alternate juror were picked to hear testimony from nine witnesses Tuesday and Wednesday.

The Circuit Clerk’s office treated the jurors to extra snacks and refreshments to show their appreciation. Employees of the office also wore Juror Appreciation Week stickers.

Circuit Court Judge Kenneth W. Pratte, who presided over the trial, said juror appreciation week is held the first week of May to recognize the sacrifice and service of jurors.

After every trial, Judge Pratte typically thanks the group as a whole and then individually thanks them as they leave the courtroom. He also makes a point to thank the alternate juror who remains with the jury until the time of deliberation in case an emergency would arise with other jurors.

He said the system simply cannot work without people willing to make the sacrifice of time and sometimes money. He said their participation in the process is appreciated by everyone in the judicial system.

Prosecuting Attorney Wendy Wexler Horn believes the jury system is wonderful. She said jurors have a hard job having to hash through a lot of evidence.

“I’m happy it’s something people take seriously,” she said.

Wells said jurors are selected to serve on a panel for four-month terms, which means the panels switch out three times a year. The panel is divided into two groups, which serve alternate weeks when jury trials are scheduled.

Wells said three times a year the office sends notices to more than 500 potential jurors. These names are chosen from drivers license records through an automated system.

Each term the computer will pull out 500 to 600 names, but through a process of elimination the number is cut to two panels of about 100 each. Some of the original numbers are excused for health reasons, some have moved and often there are names of people who have died still in the pool.

Prior to the start of each term of court, the circuit court judges conduct an orientation for prospective jurors on the two panels. At that Saturday morning session, the judges explain what is expected during jury service. They also consider requests from those who feel they should be excused from jury service.

Wells said only the two circuit judges, Judge Kenneth W. Pratte and Judge Sandra Martinez, can excuse a person from serving. Most excuses that are granted involve medical or health-related issues.

Wells said they appreciate it when someone does serve.

“We couldn’t have court without them,” she said.

According to the American Bar Association, this year was the first time Juror Appreciation Week was recognized nationally. Missouri has recognized the week each year for the past six years.

About five million Americans receive a jury summons and report for jury duty every year. Juror Appreciation Week was set aside as a time to celebrate juries and jurors, a time for Americans to deepen their understanding of the important service jurors perform in protecting our freedoms and sustaining the rule of law, and a time for the organized bar to encourage all Americans to answer the call to serve on juries whenever they are summoned.

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